Make Continuous Improvement Your Ultimate Goal

We all know turning customers away is fatal for business but we can also agree that there is always room for improvement when it comes to customer care.

Top notch customer service skills are a given if you want to provide an unforgettable customer experience. Unfortunately, not many enterprises will admit that their inner processes or quality of provided services are the leading cause of steadily declining customer satisfaction.

Real-time customer support is essential

Gaining new customers is harder than getting new business from an established customer base, but established and loyal customers provide great opportunities in the digital age, such as customer referrals and word-to-mouth.

The most overlooked part of customer experience is one-on-one customer support sessions – it often gets substituted with almost rage inducing automated technology.

The rise of the multi-channel era made B2C communications easier: blogs, websites and social media. However, for most of your customers, social media and websites might be not personal enough. Nothing can substitute the satisfaction which comes from solving a problem though more personal communication channels. Make sure to focus your customer support effort on these three solutions:

  • The “old-school” phone call, it’s not going anywhere anytime soon
  • Live web-chat, it’s the “go-to” choice for the Y generation
  • Follow-up emails or other communication methods, to reassure the customer

It all comes down to embracing and nurturing real-time interaction channels. Once you do, you’ll quickly notice renewal rates rise up and you’ll gain a few more loyal customers at the same time.

Scout ahead

In order to successfully up-sell or cross-sell you need to scout ahead, going in blind, without gathering data regarding customer purchase habits is a recipe for failure.

Understand the needs and desires of the customer base; differentiate customer types (new, loyal, etc.). Customers will notice if you don’t do your homework which will result in lost opportunities.

Gathering intelligence and providing the customer with suitable options doesn’t always guarantee a sale, but it will leave a positive impression which in the future can result in a positive referral or a new sale.

Be flexible

Every company has a set of guidelines in place, especially for marketing or servicing customers – what most contact centre managers forget is that these are just guidelines, not set in stone rules.

Make these procedures more flexible for established customers as return business is good business – make it easier for them to give you just that.

Be flexible when it comes to pitching products or services – that’s it!

Broken promises

The biggest and most common mistake is over-selling your brand. Never do that as it just leads to broken promises and lost sales – oh, and bad press.

Learn to under-sell and exceed expectations; customer satisfaction does wonders.

Unfortunately sometimes, due to poor judgement, communication problems or “insert random excuse here” promises do get broken, and you fail to deliver. This is the time to atone for the sins and repair your relationship with the customer.

Common recovery tactics include these steps:

  • Admitting your mistake
  • Offering a genuine solution to the problem caused by the broken promise
  • Offering a refund to the customer
  • Offering free or discounted serviced or products, even if the customer took a refund

Leave personal problems at home

It’s hard, but personal problems should never interfere with customer interaction. Despite all the hardships you might be facing, contact centre agents need to remain polite, professional and most importantly reliable.

We at Opstalent think exceptional customer service is the backbone of a successful business, it’s time make it your priority as well!

All Aboard The Metric-train!

Obsessing over metrics is not necessarily a bad thing, especially in a dynamic and multi-lingual environment of a customer care centre.

However, if you use the wrong metrics, or use them in a wrong way, then the results will be skewed and not reflective of the truth.

 

Don’t be naive

Showing a lack of experience, understanding or at times idealism on the contact centre floor is the equivalent of prancing around with a “Kick Me!” sign.

As a manager or supervisor, you need to understand human nature. Don’t be naive.

Each time you implement a new metric, signal how important this is. Furthermore, attaching a target or an incentive to the metric will encourage the employees, and they will strive to improve their performance when it comes to that particular measure.

Just remember, in order to reap the benefits your contact centre agents will try to “bend the rules” in order to reap the benefits – the ends will justify the means. This has a tremendous impact on team morale.

It’s your job to pinpoint any problems these actions can cause and deal with them accordingly.

 

Can you measure greed?

It’s quite common for contact and customer care centre managers to implement more metrics then it’s actually needed. Going overboard with multiple measuring scales is what we at OpsTalent call Greed-metrics.

Why settle for a simple abandonment rate figure when you could also have:

  • the quality of service scale
  • average answer speed
  • and finally, the average time to abandon

And yes, you guessed it, each of these metrics comes with its own separate target.

This only shows the confusion among the management team, a complete lack of the ability to see the wood from the trees – one might say.

There always needs to be a clear reason for creating and using a specific metric. The agent team needs to know why metrics are implemented and how are they used to evaluate their work.

 

People will try to cheat

During the presidential election, we are bound to hear the common phrase “The polls were rigged”. The contact centre industry suffers from its own “outcome rigging” shenanigans.

In order to hit the desired targets and receive bonuses, contact centre agents and managers alike will provide falsified data.

Supervisors and managers will be more sophisticated about their “rigging” methods. Pay attention if one of the following occurs:

  • Altering the calculation methods used in order to show a “more accurate” result
  • Being particularly picky about “how” and “what” metrics are used
  • Simple stuff like removing outliers or changing graph scales in order to conceal upward or downward trends
  • Questioning the validity of the data

Rigging crucial metric data is an attempt to hide performance issues – keeping a “good score” should never take precedence over facts.

 

Measure, adjust and act

Contact centre performance isn’t something easily predictable. Sometimes your agent teams can perform as if the sky is their limit, and other times it will get much worse, even dreadful.

But it’s your duty as a manager to quickly catch on to those rapid changes in performance and distinguish if they are really important issues that should be deal with (through coaching, training sessions, knowledge base implementation etc.) or are they simply noise.

Do not, however, overreact as overreaction conjures up problems, ones which didn’t exist in the first place.

The Importance of Training Reinforcement

It’s a known fact that a well-trained employee makes a difference it the customer careindustry.

How your consultants resolve customer issues, deal with potentially volatile situations, and up-sell or cross-sell your products and services, makes or breaks your business.

It shouldn’t come as a mystery that when you invest in employee training programs, your agents come out motivated and equipped with a more versatile toolkit to use on customers.

However, as with all things, the enthusiasm starts to fade and the recently acquired skills deteriorate, which leaves you with mostly the same issues you dealt with prior to training.

Follow the steps below to amp-up your training sessions and make them stick.

 

How to make it stick?

The first step is up to you, don’t get frustrated with your employees “training amnesia,” instead evaluate your training service’s reinforcement methodology.

Do you incorporate follow-up programs?

It’s been proven that over the course of six months, trainees will lose up to 75%  of knowledge gained through training if there are no reinforcement and follow-up solutions introduced. Similarly, less than a 50% of skills gained during training sessions will carry over to the job if there’s no failsafe in the form of training reinforcement implemented.

Customer care training is essential; empower your employees by providing them with the proper “tools of the trade” as well as incorporating a well functioning follow-up methodology.

 

Summarizing & handouts

Don’t count on your employees having a photographic memory, quite a lot of important information will slip by them over the course of training sessions.

Compile handouts (or create a handy PDF document) that will highlight key points raised during customer service training, use diagrams and images but keep it short – make sure that the handout is short as possible (no more than 2 pages) and lists only relevant critical information.

Encourage consultants to use these handouts as a miniature knowledge base.

 

The art of coaching

Good training sessions are a mix of theory, spliced with examples of a real-life application of our newly acquired skills and a dash of role-playing. Theory will most likely stick with your employees, it’s the real-life application part you need to reinforce:

  • observe
  • correct
  • demonstrate
  • reevaluate

Coaching sessions solidify newly acquired knowledge, especially if conducted right after customer service training. Demonstrating the correct approach is essential, reinforce their efforts through praise and feedback.

 

Debriefing

Tie-in reinforcement session during staff meetings, it’s a wonderful opportunity to review key concepts and training in general. Discuss how are they incorporating their new skill-set into their daily routine, how are they helping them and most importantly ask which skills seem to be the most problematic when applying to practical situations.  Periodical debriefing is a powerful reinforcement tool it allows your employees to work through any potential issues they might be having as they start “getting their hands dirty”.

 

Take it from the top

Leading by example has to be one of the best ways to reinforce training lessons, if you really think your employees don’t mimic your behaviour, think again. Monitor yourself, consistently apply training session knowledge in customer and coworker relations – bring those training lessons to life, prove that you “walk the walk” and not just “talk the talk”

 

It doesn’t end in the classroom

Customer service training doesn’t have to end the moment your employees get back to their workspace. Follow our tips and get the most out of your training investment, maximise gains by reinforcing and coaching your customer service agents.

You’re the deciding factor on what they retain from training sessions.

 

Myths surrounding cloud-based solutions

There’s a whole bunch of myths surrounding cloud-based communication solutions that are mostly used to dissuade enterprises from implementing them. Lack of control over company sensitive data and problems that may occur when integrating cloud-based solutions with other more traditional applications are the two most common concerns.

Companies Lose Control Over Key Data.

This is one of the most common arguments in the effort against cloud-based services. You have zero control over your data, you are at the mercy of your cloud provider when it comes to even the most minute matters like day-to-day changes in configuration or access control.

This argument could not be further from the truth since one of the key advantages is the modular user interfaces developed by providers – those turn into multifunctional tools in the hands of a manager. When it comes to contact centres, the managers can implement vast changes without any involvement from the IT department while even closely monitoring their agents since the tools they are using are fitted to them specifically.

As for the loss of control over key data, every cloud-based system allows storing sensitive information on the client’s premises.

Difficult Integration.

The difficulty with integration is yet another myth that shrouds Cloud solutions. Most customer care centres today operate on-premise based systems that require cost-heavy CTI integration. Cloud, on the other hand, uses latest web services technology. It is designed with the phrase “user-friendly” in mind – making it easier to actually implement into a premise-based system, not to mention other cloud applications.

The Aftermath.

Cloud-based solutions are easily integrated and you don’t loose control over any data. So is this solution right for your enterprise? That is for you to decide.

Keep in mind that consumer demands are on the rise, mobile customer support access, social media integration and much more. Cloud could unify the whole field.

It does not solve all the problems but can solve most of them or in the very least point us to the logical solution.

 

The #1 Job: Coaching

Once you embrace positive coaching, then employee morale will hit an all time high and you will be able to feel the positive energy “crackling” in the air.

contact centre agents are more engaged and show more enthusiasm and are more likely to succeed in their day to day tasks. Work becomes a great experience for your staff, you can literally feel the positive energy “crackling” in the air.

But if coaching sessions are negative or virtually non-existent, team morale will plummet.

Agents will become disconnected, absent minded and bored. This will result in lower quality of service as well as higher attrition rates.

 

Coach­ing is essential

High productivity and decent bottom-line results are not impossible in an environment where morale is low, but it is highly unlikely. As a coach, you need to remember that if you provide a better working experience for your contact centre agents, they will become more engaged and enthusiastic, and thus the customer experience will reflect that.

As a manager, you are responsible for your employees, you need to care for them – trust us, it’s the right thing to do. But if you believe that altruism has no place in the business world maybe those couple points will show you why coaching is so essential:

Positive coaching will lead to high morale among your contact centre agents, thus providing these long-term benefits:

  • Increased job satisfaction
  • Higher pro­duc­tiv­ity
  • Lower attrition rates
  • Higher cus­tomer satisfaction
  • Increased cus­tomer loyalty

 

Don’t fall into a trap

Don’t ever make the assumption that the correct path to high morale is providing contact centre agents with what they vocal majority of them want. Take a look back at your own career path and think back, what did you want as a “grunt” employee? Better pay, more “spare” time for non-work-related shenanigans and less work relates tasks – that sounds like the fastest path to minimalism.

If you want your employees to thrive, create a dynamic and positive environment, provide opportunities for self-development. Continuous learning will lead to constant improvements on multiple levels – knowledge is power, especially in the dynamic world of multi-lingual contact centres.

 

Make it happen

First and foremost, as the manager, you need to embrace the idea that coaching is the #1 job you are responsible for. Then, cultivate and spread the idea of positive coaching among your staff – all of them, no exception. Open communication and active participation should be encouraged, make agents aware that despite not being decision makers their input is highly valued and everyone can make a difference. Make them a part of “The Grand Plan”.

Creating this kind of positive environment is no easy task, but it goes a long way.

 

…don’t get discouraged

Every company has some “just get by” people and nothing will change that, no matter what you as the manager do to inspire and motivate them. Morale of the whole contact centre can be in danger, so when the time to act comes be firm. Issue out warnings to those contact centre agents with attitude problems and if that doesn’t help it’s best to terminate “get by-ers” on the spot.

Turn Your Hiring Program Into a Powerful Retention Tool

Multilingual contact centre managers realise the key to success is having skilled, engaged and fast thinking agents manning the front lines of each campaign.

This is where the hiring program methods distinguish the great contact centres from the decent ones. If you want to provide excellent customer experience with highly engaged agents you need to treat the recruiting process like an agent retention tool and not like the usual agent acquisition process.

The widespread myth of “high turnover rates” is to blame.

Take your time

Careful and precise selection of the most qualified and committed candidates is the best way to reduce attrition among contact centre agents.

Customer service requires a plethora of soft and hard skills and it would be highly unwise to rush the whole recruitment process. Trying to quickly meet the contact centres staffing requirements will only be a waste of time and precious resources.

Screening and filtering are essential steps – don’t skip them.

Overconfidence will get you nowhere

Many contact centre managers make this rookie mistake, overconfidence is your biggest enemy when it comes to turnover rates. Even if your contact centre has an empathetic corporate culture that attracts many candidates, so many that there is always a line of “soon-to-be” agents waiting just outside the door to fill in for your front line “grunts” – it’s not the time to boast.

Having a long line of applicants doesn’t mean they’re all highly qualified and engaged.

Use the numbers to your advantage

Simply “stack the deck” in your favour, a large pool of candidates provides no advantage unless you have tools in place which will help filter out the real talent from replicas.

These tools include:

  • a focused recruiting process
  • screening and assessment techniques and technologies that pinpoint which candidate possess qualities to succeed in the dynamic multilingual contact centre environment
  • realistic job previews, be clear on what is required from potential candidates

Having overbearing numbers of job applicants isn’t anything to brag about, especially in this economy. If you believe that long lines of candidates outside the office are a valid metric of how special your company is we’ve got bad news for you – it’s time to get off your high horse.

If agents are quitting despite the situation of the current job market it might be a sign of poor management

In order to form teams of highly engaged agents and forming a customer-centric climate, you need to view your hiring program as a powerful retention tool.

Reducing Costs While Maintaining Efficiency & Versatility

When operating a multilingual contact centre, customer service costs can add up fast, and over a short period of time they will quickly add up to A LOT.

If you are looking to improve your business’s bottom line, or provide better customer service, you need to implement these methods to reduce customer service costs without sacrificing the support part, and still providing exceptional customer experience.

Equipment

Re-evaluate your equip­ment, it could be cost­ing you more money than you think.  For example, automat­ing your contact centre’s tele­phone sys­tem for the less used cus­tomer ser­vice func­tions could potentially save time and reduce cost on pay­roll and train­ing. Cloud-based technology can also centralise your whole contact centre into one consolidated customer service centre.

  • Phone Sys­tem: Find an appropriate calling system that will streamline the process. An automated attendant or system that reroutes calls to correct contact centre agents quickly can be a life saver, especially during customer service peaks
  • Soft­ware: Is your CRM software integrated with your calling and scheduling systems? If not, make it your top priority.
  • Stor­age: Most on-site systems can be moved to the cloud, especially if they take up valuable space and resources. Evaluate if doing so will help you save on utility costs.

Multi-Channel

Embracing the multi-channel approach, implementing it and then aligning all your communication channels is what all contact centres should aim to achieve in 2015.

It’s not only about the technology, it’s about the people. Your contact centre is as strong as its core employees – the front line grunts, contact centre agents.

Make sure that your teams can handle multiple communication channels, be it email, phone call, live web chat or social media. Assigning two people per campaign to each communication channel might seem a reasonable choice, but in the end, it might cost you more.

Remember about attrition and turnover rates, which despite the efforts of contact centre managers still plague the industry to this day. Train each representative, they need to provide exceptional customer service on each communication channel – versatility is essential.

Also in the case of returning customers, if the same agent handles the quarry throughout all communication channels, it adds a new depth of personalisation thus creating a compelling experience for the customer resulting in increased customer satisfaction.

Cutting customer service costs is not about blindly “swingin’ the ole axe”  and reducing budgets, it’s about making your business more efficient.

Upgrading software, as well as hardware, will lead to increase in employee efficiency while embracing the multi-channel approach and centralising all communication channels will lead to increase in customer satisfaction, both of which will in the long-term lead to better customer retention.

Evaluate budgets, look for ways to increase efficiency, and only then cut costs.

 

The Real Value of First Contact Resolution

The more satisfied customers are, the more loyal they’ll become – embrace customer centricity.

It’s not a mystery that first contact resolution is one of the main drivers for customer satisfaction.

Even the smallest improvements to first contact resolution (FCR) have an impact on increasing customer satisfaction, at an astonishing rate of 1:1, which quite frankly is huge.

 

Cost Effective

First Contact resolution not only increases customer satisfaction but improving FCR in your contact centre should be the top priority, simply because it greatly reduces costs.

So there is without a shadow of a doubt a business case for improving first contact resolution, as a result, many companies are investing heavily in customer service training and analytics tools, to measure and improve this voluble metric.

But is focusing mainly on FCR sufficient in order to maintain customer loyalty?
Most certainly not.

 

Keep It Balanced

There are many vital aspects that correspond and impact customer satisfaction thus shaping customer loyalty, these “what-if’s” are:

  • What if; you encountered a poorly trained contact centre agent?
  • What if; the representative didn’t have sufficient product knowledge?
  • What if; you had to be kept on hold for 20 minutes while listening to some ungodly music track?
  • What if; the issue was resolved but the agent was rude and interrupted the conversation numerous times?

 

Diversify

Overly focusing on one metric is a sign of bad management. Embrace the balanced scorecard tactic and evaluate your employees and customer service process’s using these criteria:

  • First Contact Resolution
  • Post contact IVR survey, ask the customer how would they rate the experience
  • Customer retention metric to evaluate the likelihood of a customer leaving within 4 weeks
  • Include Average Handle Time; despite all the hate it gets if you wish you could keep it hidden from the contact centre agents
  • Cross-selling abilities
  • Average time spent on hold; waiting on hold is despised by the customers
  • Number of appropriate escalations
  • Employee satisfaction; happy staff = happy customers

 

First contact resolution is a vital metric which greatly impacts customer satisfaction and helps reducing costs, but focusing on FCR alone is simply not enough.

Take all variables into consideration when trying to increase customer loyalty and act accordingly, ask the customers what parts of the customer experience you provide do they cherish and which ones do they despise, and get to work.

How to Align Employee Training with Customer Expectations

Email is the most popular communication method for customer care delivery and with more contact centres embracing the multi-channel approach, proper monitoring is essential in achieving high productivity.

Bellow, you’ll find tips on how to get the most out of email communication channel and deliver exceptional customer experience.

 

Conduct grammar and spelling checks

Emails to customers have to be professional, just being readable won’t cut it. Your contact centre agents can easily undermine your companies image with poor spelling and bad grammar. This step while being fairly easy to conduct will pay off tremendously in the long run and will save precious time while avoiding confusion.

 

Pick the right tone

When monitoring emails, set a central set of rules and guidelines, or even a template. Just don’t be too restrictive, let the agents choose the appropriate tone – one that suits the specific customer query.

An overly formal email might be too hard to understand for most customers, a chatty one, on the other hand, has the potential to alienate the customer.  Also, you wouldn’t address a senior in the same manner as you would a typical college “bro”, now would you?

Simply, let the agents adjust the tone to suit different situations.

 

Coach and review independently across all platforms

When conducting quality checks, use a larger sample pool than just a couple of interactions. This applies to single agent evaluation and team evaluation process as well.

If agents work on multiple communications channels score each one independently and coach accordingly. Good coaching will improve performance, but sometimes agents aren’t meant for some particular channel.

Pay attention to their skill sets, and assign them to projects that will utilise those to their full potential. This will drive productivity even higher.

 

The mystery shopper

Email is no different than a traditional call or even retail when it comes to mystery shoppers. This is a quite simple, yet often overlooked assessment technique that provides valuable data.

Having an external entity grading your staff is a smart move.

 

Answer the question – don’t “copy & paste”

The number times this simple step is overlooked makes us at OpsTalent cringe. Has the contact centre agent actually answered the customer’s query, or did he just send a prescripted response that has nothing to do with the question and provides no resolution what so ever?

Measuring success and first contact resolution will help you identify potential problems, and when these metrics improve it will be a clear sign that you are on a clear path to exceptional customer experience.

Make sure that any potential answers are consistent across all communication channels are consistent and relevant.

Also, personalise the email, it’s a small yet often welcome touch that embraces the vision of brand loyalty.

 

Don’t obsess over response time

Yes, response times do matter, and contact centres, as well as customers, rightfully care about them. Keep in mind tough, that customers understand that email isn’t used as the go-to “real time” channel, that’s what web chat is for or even the conventional phone call, or in some cases remote access.

Just make sure that customers know their request is being processed and that the response will be accurate and delivered in timely fashion.

Set up automated acknowledgements that set realistic response time for each query, this will help in managing customer expectations and your enterprise will avoid possible “clogs” caused by additional mail enquiries – this is especially vital during the festive season or during a new product/campaign launch.

Measuring email quality is easier than you might think,  just make sure that your training and quality expectations are fully aligned – that’s the recipe for exceptional customer service.

Coaching is an Art Form

Suffering from poor agent performance and not reaching targets is a common occurrence in the contact centre industry.

Managers facing such issues approach their staff and try to push them to work harder and just “be” more efficient as if that alone was enough to boost their productivity as well as solve underlying causes.

But as with all choices made under pressure, this one isn’t the optimal solution. Team leaders and supervisors often think they are coaching their contact centre agents but in reality, they are simply highlighting problems and ask to “magically improve performance”, without providing any coaching whatsoever.

Improving coaching skills should be a priority for each and every supervisor.

 

Support & challenge

Remember, your staff is already frustrated and demotivated after not being able to hit the predicted targets. Those relatively easy goals are becoming impossible – adding more pressure from their managers could be fatal to your business.

Support and nurture your agents, especially when morale is down. Provide challenges as well as goals to reach but at the same time establish clear and reachable goals.

 

The “I want to…” not “I have to” approach

Time should never be a reason for a poor coaching session or a complete lack of one. This is your job as the manager – don’t ever label coaching as “wasted time”.

Remember to engage the coachee in such a way, that he or she will leave the session with a sense of involvement in the coaching process, help them identify the problem themselves – this will strengthen their desire to improve their skills.

Highlight the good and the bad, give your agents “contrast”. Encourage self-development, it’s a great asset, especially in the outsourcing industry.

 

The coaching plan

Prepare a solid coaching structure, one that addresses each potential issue, remember about proper questioning techniques. The plan is vital, it will bring consistency to your sessions and will put the “value” back into coaching as an art form.

Just be sure to keep it simple, clear and involve agents as much as possible – interactive coaching is the best possible solution to performance issues.

 

The process

  • Introduce; make it clear from the get-go, what is expected from both parties involved and what should be the outcome.
  • Pinpoint;the problematic area by listening to recorded calls, reviewing data entry quality or missed sales opportunities. Finding and reviewing particular problems alongside the agent will provide tremendous insight when you compare both sets of information.
  • Summarise;make notes, ask simple open questions. Ask the agent, what they did well and what areas need to be improved upon? Let them explain “How” will they improve, offer tips and exercises.

 

The outcome

Through proper engagement during coaching sessions, you will create value for the activity – no longer, will it be considered a mere “time sink” by agents and managers alike.

The feeling of self-development is a tremendous morale booster and will benefit your staff as a whole.

Your business will thrive thanks to improvements in key areas such as; customer contacts, sales conversation, staff and customer retention.